Waking up to the shrill beeping of an alarm has been the norm for many years. However, there is an alternative. Natural alarm clocks or wake-up lights can mimic the natural rhythm of the sun. They gradually promote wakefulness with soft, simulated morning light. Here’s how these devices can foster a more balanced and refreshed start to the day.
Downsides of a Traditional Alarm
People have relied on traditional alarm clocks with loud, blaring sounds for decades. While these alarm clocks may be effective at rousing a household, there are some potential downsides. For example:
- Abrupt Awakening: The sudden, loud sound of traditional alarm clocks startles a person awake. This sudden jolt may cause a spike in stress hormones like cortisol and lead to grogginess, which may last a while after waking up.
- Increased Stress and Anxiety: Waking up to a loud alarm can create stress and anxiety, especially if the sound is irritating. The association with stressful situations (like rushing to work or school) can also contribute to feelings of anxiety.
- Disrupted Sleep Patterns: Abrupt waking from a deep sleep stage can interrupt our natural sleep cycle, the circadian rhythm. This may lead to disrupted sleep patterns and tiredness throughout the day.
- Negative Mood: Starting the day with a loud, unpleasant sound can set a negative tone for the morning, impacting mood and overall well-being. Starting the day with negativity is not a recipe for a good day at work or with the family.
- Physical Effects: For some people, the sudden shock of a blaring alarm clock can even increase heart rate and blood pressure. High blood pressure is a known risk factor for cardiovascular problems.
To avoid these potential downsides, some people opt for alternative wake-up methods. They may seek out wake-up lights or alarms with soothing music or nature sounds. These can create a smoother transition from sleep to wakefulness, creating a better morning experience.
What is a Wake-up Light?
A wake-up light, also called a sunrise alarm clock or dawn simulator, is a type of alarm clock that produces an artificial dawn. It’s designed to wake you up more gently and naturally by simulating a sunrise. Instead of abrupt sounds, wake-up lights use light to mimic the natural sunrise. They gradually increase in brightness over 15 to 40 minutes before the alarm time.
The idea behind wake-up lights is to simulate a natural sunrise. When the sun comes up, it triggers the body to gradually reduce melatonin production and increase cortisol production. While many people emphasize cortisol as the “stress hormone,” it also helps you feel awake and alert.
This gradual increase in light helps regulate the body’s internal clock: the circadian rhythm. A potential result is a better mood and energy when you wake up each morning.
What Are The Benefits?
For those who find it difficult to get up in the morning or live in places with limited natural light, using a wake-up light may help. Here are several potential benefits:
- Natural Wake-Up Experience: Wake-up lights simulate a sunrise, gradually increasing brightness until alarm time. This gradual light exposure mimics the natural waking process, signaling the body to reduce the production of sleep hormones like melatonin and increase the production of cortisol. In this way, it helps you wake up more naturally.
- Reduced Sleep Inertia: By gently waking you up with light rather than a sudden, loud noise, wake-up lights can reduce something called sleep inertia. Sleep inertia is the grogginess and disorientation associated with awakening from deep sleep. Ultimately, it can help you feel more alert and less sluggish in the morning.
- Improved Mood and Energy: Waking up to gradually increasing light can positively impact mood and energy levels. In a 1993 trial, using a wake-up light improved feelings of depression in patients with seasonal affective disorder (SAD). A 2005 meta-analysis confirmed that bright light therapy improved feelings of depression.
- Regulation of Circadian Rhythm: Consistent use of a wake-up light can help regulate the body’s internal clock and circadian rhythm. This may lead to better sleep quality and a more stable sleep-wake cycle over time.
- Personalized Settings: Many wake-up lights come with customizable features such as light intensity, color, and nature sounds, allowing users to personalize their waking experience based on their preferences.
- Useful for Dark Mornings or Shift Work: For those working non-traditional hours, wake-up lights can be particularly useful. They can provide that sunrise experience, helping the body adjust to waking up while it’s dark.
Overall, wake-up lights offer a more gentle and natural way to wake up, potentially improving overall well-being. However, some people may still prefer traditional alarm clocks or other waking methods.
What to Look For in Sunrise Alarm Clocks
Sunrise alarm clocks vary widely in price and features. You can get them for as little as $30 or pay up to $200 for luxury touches. Here are some of the options/features of the best alarm clocks that mimic the sun:
- Sunrise simulation
- Sunset simulation
- Soothing sounds/nature sounds during wake-up or wind-down
- A noise machine for better sleep at night
- FM radio option
- Customizable brightness settings
- Light color options
- Optional use as a bedside lamp or reading light
- Does NOT rely on WiFi or Bluetooth connectivity to work
Some alarms are even smart alarm clocks, compatible with Google or Alexa devices. Wireless or smart alarms are also high in EMF radiation though, so they’re not something I feel comfortable sleeping next to at night!
The Best Sunrise Alarm Clocks
While there’s a wide range of features on sunrise alarms, you don’t have to spend a lot. Here are some of the most popular sunrise alarm clocks and my thoughts on them.
Homelabs Sunrise Alarm Clock
The Homelabs Sunrise Alarm Clock is an affordable sunrise simulation alarm at $30. (I’ve even seen it on sale for $20). Even though it’s inexpensive, the Homelabs alarm has many customizable options. It also gets decent ratings, though some of the reviews are mixed on quality.
Its warm LED light has eight color options, including sunshine yellow, neon, green, and magenta. The light gradually brightens over 30 minutes until wake-up time. You can also use it as a reading lamp as you wind down at night. It has several soothing sounds to wake up to, or you can opt for the FM radio. This clock has a ton of options for $30!
Casper Glow Light
The Casper Glow Light is a popular sunrise clock for gently coaxing yourself awake. The brightness settings allow you to adjust the warmth and brightness according to your preferences or needs. However, there aren’t any sound options, so it might not be the best alarm for heavy sleepers.
There are some serious downsides to this alarm though. The Casper retails for about $130, significantly more than other options. It also has a wireless charger and the timer uses Bluetooth connected through an app on your phone so it emits high levels of EMF radiation.
Philips SmartSleep Wake-Up Light
The SmartSleep Wake-Up Light gradually increases in brightness, simulating a sunrise before the alarm time. It also has five natural wake-up sounds that you can pair with the sunrise simulator. If you prefer to wake up to your favorite station, you can select FM radio.
The SmartSleep has a snooze button, allowing you to relax for a few more minutes before the alarm sounds again. While it looks like a giant sun coming up in the morning, it can also double as a reading lamp or ambient lighting in the bedroom. It also has the option of a midnight light that serves as a nightlight. The SmartSleep Wake-Up retails for $110.
This model does not have Bluetooth capabilities, so it emits lower EMF radiation.
The Philips SmartSleep Connected Sleep is another wake-up light from the same brand, but it does have WiFi. While it offers more features (and a higher price tag!), it only works if it’s connected to the WiFi on your phone. So it’s not something I would recommend.
Hatch Restore 2 Sunrise Alarm Clock
The Hatch Restore 2 is another popular light alarm clock. It combines several sleep products, including a sunset simulator, a noise machine, a night light, and a sunlight alarm clock. The noise machine also has the option of white noise, pink noise, or brown noise.
While it has lots of light options it’s also expensive ($200). The other major downside is that like the Philips SmartSleep Connected Sleep, it only runs when connected to an app on your phone. So again, not something I would recommend.
What I Use: The JALL Wake Up Light
The JALL Wake Up Light is my top pick and the one I bought for myself. At about $40, it’s an affordable way to have a gentle wake-up experience each morning. This clock looks like a giant sun and has several sound options to wake you up. Wake up to birds chirping, ocean waves, or wind chimes, for example.
It has a 30-minute gradual wake-up period. However, you can shorten it to 20 or even 10 minutes. Another great feature is that you can program it for different days of the week. For example, you can set it for different wake-up times on weekdays versus weekends. You can also have it go off twice for you and your spouse.
At night, you can use it as a bedside lamp depending on the brightness level. Again, this clock is an excellent value for all its features.
Other Elements of a Healthy Sleep Environment
A natural awakening each morning is only part of a healthy sleep experience. It all starts in the evening before your head even hits the pillow. Some key elements of a healthy sleep environment include the following:
- No Artificial Blue Light After Sunset: Avoid exposure to computers, smartphones, iPads, and TV for at least 90 minutes before bedtime. If you must use them download a program like f.lux on your computer and/or wear orange glasses to block the blue light.
- Keep Cool: It’s always been standard advice to keep your bedroom cool for better sleep. However, sometimes hormones or other things can cause us to heat up too much. I try to keep my room around 65 degrees at night.
- Ensure Your Room is Dark: Use blackout curtains to cover windows or wear a sleep mask to make sure there’s no light to interfere with your melatonin production. Our family also does not use night lights in our bedrooms at night (even the kids!)
- Block Out Disruptive Sounds: Some wake-up lights incorporate white noise or another sound machine within the device. White noise, brown noise, or even pink noise can help to block out sounds from outside or the next room, helping you get restful sleep.
- Keep the EMFs at a Distance: Electromagnetic fields (EMFs) from WIFI and cell phone towers are known to disrupt sleep. Turn off your WIFI at night manually or with an EMF Safe Switch. Anything that’s plugged into an outlet will emit low levels of EMFs. An easy way to reduce these levels is to keep anything plugged in away from your head at night.
- Switch to Organic Bedding: Many sheets and blankets are treated with chemicals during manufacturing. The idea is to make them stain-resistant, water-resistant, or flame-resistant. However, breathing in chemicals for ? of your life isn’t the way to health. Learn more about natural/organic bedding here.
- Try a Buckwheat Pillow: Buckwheat hulls are a better pillow stuffing for air circulation. So, they can help your head cooler for a better night’s sleep. They can also be more comfortable for your neck and spine. You can make them yourself or find them on Amazon.
It takes time and a bit of effort to put together a healthy sleep environment and routine. I did it a little at a time.
What I Do
I bought the JALL Wake Up Light Sunrise Alarm Clock on Amazon several years ago. It sits on my nightstand with a few other favorite sleep products, which you can read about here. I also keep my bedroom really dark so no light disturbs my melatonin production at night.
Another one of the biggest changes I’ve made for my health is going outside every morning as soon as possible after waking up. Even if it’s a cloudy day, I get broad-spectrum light from outside. I also avoid artificial light after sunset and do these things I recommend to moms.
Do you use a natural alarm clock or wake-up light? Have you noticed a positive difference? Share with us below!